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WikiLeaks: PM leads the govt charge against BJP
Puts up a spirited defence, terms Oppositionís bribery charges as wild
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, March 23
The Congress marshalled all its forces in Parliament today to demolish the attack mounted against it by a united Opposition over latest WikiLeaks cables suggesting that the UPA government won a crucial trust vote in 2008 on the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement by bribing MPs.

The day-long debate in both Houses of Parliament, which witnessed fiery exchanges between the Opposition and the treasury benches, ended with an unusually assertive Prime Minister Manmohan Singh forcefully rejecting these charges even as he took a dig at senior BJP leader LK Advani for believing that "being Prime Minister was his birthright." The PM also humoured Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj by quoting an Urdu couplet in response to a verse she had read earlier when she initiated the debate in the Lok Sabha.

The Prime Minister was ably supported in his effort by Home Minister P Chidambaram and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal who braved a hostile Opposition to puncture holes in the arguments put forth by their political rivals. In fact, they turned the tables on the Opposition by quoting a fresh expose which suggests that the 2008 sting operation by a television news channel was conducted with the help of BJP leaders to discredit the government.

A belligerent Opposition began the day with flying colours as Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha targeted the PM and said that the "UPA-I had survived because of the retail purchase of Parliamentarians." 

By the end of the day, however, the Opposition was successfully silenced by the PM. While reiterating that "none from the Congress party or from the government indulged in any unlawful activity during the trust vote," Manmohan Singh asked the Opposition to ponder over the dangerous ramifications of putting so much faith in what has been written by an embassy official.

Pointing to the ruckus created by the Opposition over the latest cables, he maintained that it would be very easy for any embassy official to create strife in another country as all he had to do was to plant some message 
and then leak it to political parties. "We have chosen to go by what some embassy official has written about us. I must warn the House that it's dangerous," he added.

The PM repeated that it was not possible to verify the contents of these secret American diplomatic cables and quoted from the report of the Kishore Chandra Deo Parliamentary panel, which had probed the cash-for-votes case, to state that it had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that money was paid to purchase MPs. "I am convinced that taking the report as a whole, this is a correct inference," he added.

While the day clearly belonged to the PM, his ministerial colleagues were not lagging far behind in pushing the Opposition on the back foot. Parliamentary Affairs Minister PK Bansal fired the first salvo in the Lok Sabha when he accused the BJP of "stage-managing the cash-for-votes sting operation."

The Rajya Sabha witnessed a "clash of the titans" as P Chidambaram took on BJP leader Arun Jaitely to demolish the latter's argument that the committee set up to investigate the cash-for-votes sting had found evidence to show bribery.

The Opposition attack in the Lok Sabha was led by its leader Sushma Swaraj who questioned the PM's statement that neither the government nor the Congress indulged in any unlawful activity during the 2008 trust vote and asked him to explain who ordered the payment of cash for votes if the UPA did not. "Whose government was to be saved? Who was to stay the PM? The beneficiary of a criminal act is an equal criminal," Sushma said while contesting the PM's description of the leaked cables as "speculative, unverifiable and unverified".

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